- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Fiction, of sorts

A unique style of gambling is so prevalent in the hallowed halls of Congress that author Brad Meltzer has made it the plot of his latest suspense thriller, “The Zero Game.”

“It absolutely goes on up there,” says Mr. Meltzer, who first learned about congressional wagers when he was a 19-year-old intern assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Now, after two years of research for “The Zero Game,” the best-selling author has tracked “real betting schemes in Congress.”

“Staffers bet on bills all the time,” Mr. Meltzer says in an interview with Inside the Beltway, “Long shots and odds of a certain bill passing. It’s all about victory and winning — gambling on whether they can get what they want passed.”

Particularly after “pork” is attached to a bill in conference, causing odds to fluctuate.

Asked to provide other examples, Mr. Meltzer reveals the name of one member (who won’t be identified here) who speaks so regularly on the floor of the House — the aim to get maximum exposure on C-SPAN — that one office of congressional staffers, on a daily basis, contribute cash to a money jar, which then is placed in rotation on a staffer’s desk.

“If the jar is on your desk the day the member doesn’t give a speech, you get the money in the jar,” explains Mr. Meltzer, calling Congress “the best legal casino in the country.”

He tells another story of a junior Senate staffer who constantly whined about picking up a senator’s dry cleaning, until such time a fellow staffer bet that he could sneak the words “dry cleaning” into the senator’s next speech. The result: “… although sometimes regarded as dry, cleaning our environment should clearly be top priority.”

Mr. Meltzer, who People magazine ranks with authors John Grisham and David Baldacci, also learned various congressional “power tricks.” For example, when inviting a member to an event, be vague and don’t provide an invitation list, as lawmakers “are worried about being left out” and more likely will show up.

And if sponsoring a bill, personalize it with a name — e.g., “The Laci Peterson Bill” — as members find it more difficult to “vote against a name.”

“The Zero Game” (Warner Books) went on sale yesterday. This evening in Washington, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, and Reps. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat; Harold E. Ford Jr., Tennessee Democrat; and Harold Rogers, Kentucky Republican, will throw a book party for Mr. Meltzer.

Ritz referendum

“A bathrobe in the closet, but no hanging chads” — or so hopes the four Ritz-Carlton hotels in and around Washington, which have begun educating guests about voting in advance of the Nov. 2 presidential election.

Along with room keys, Ritz-Carltons in Washington, Georgetown, Tysons Corner and Pentagon City are distributing mock election ballots. The ballot we received yesterday was so up-to-date that it didn’t list the name of Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, who dropped out of the Democratic race yesterday afternoon.

We’ll bring you results when there are some.

Babes for Bush

Texas-based BabesForBush has released a 2004 pinup calendar “highlighting average Americans” who support the president and are proud of his accomplishments.

“I like President Bush even if he is from the same state as the Dixie Chicks,” says Miss November, Amy Hayes, a boxing-ring announcer and model pictured in today’s column. Hailing from Detroit, she says she “went from a jackass to an elephant after the Clinton administration.”

Tax lessons

Preliminary budget-deficit figures obtained from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) suggest the end of the state budget crisis is near.

“This is good news for the states,” says Chris Atkins, director of ALEC’s Tax & Fiscal Policy Task Force, who gives credit to President Bush’s tax policies for igniting the economy “and the states are reaping the benefits.”

“Many states that are still struggling with deficits — Indiana, Kansas, New Jersey and New York — are states that raised taxes in the past to deal with budget deficits,” he says. “Other states that have no expected budget deficit — like Florida, Minnesota and New Hampshire — are states that relied on spending cuts or other measures to balance their budget.”

The top five states still projecting budget deficits include California ($15 billion), New York ($5 billion), New Jersey ($5 billion), Illinois ($2 billion) and Michigan ($1.4 billion).

John McCaslin, a nationally syndicated columnist, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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